The Rapid Elearning Blog

Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog - the world isn't flat why are my elearning courses

Many rapid elearning courses look at lot like the stereo-typical PowerPoint slide. They’re flat and bland. In a recent email, someone wanted to know how to make their screens look more interesting without requiring advanced graphics skills.

In today’s post I’ll show a simple tip that we’ve been sharing in our workshops for a few years now.

Why Be Flat?

We call the following tip the floor-wall-baseboard (FWB) technique. However at a workshop a few years ago, one of the participants recommended we change the FWB to WBF (Why Be Flat). I like it.

Why be flat? That question addresses the essence of this technique. Why should your screen be flat? The world isn’t flat (maybe). It has dimension and perspective. So why not do the same for your elearning courses?

The trick is to break the screen into three pieces: floor, wall, and baseboard. That’s all you need to get started. To do this, create three core shapes. The shapes can be filled with solid colors, gradient effects, or images.

Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog - the floor wall baseboard technique for elearning

Essentially you’re adding a horizon line which creates a sense of perspective and the illusion of space. This allows you to convert a flat screen into one that is visually rich and offers a sense of perspective.

Here’s a quick example of the “Why Be Flat” technique.

Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog - simple elearning screen

The image above represents the typical slide. We have a character and we’re using the ever popular chalkboard. This screen isn’t bad, but the background is stark and there’s no depth.

First, we’ll add a different background. That’s our wall.

Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog - add a background to the elearning screen

The wall already starts to make the screen look more interesting. The white’s gone and the screen has a softer and more elegant look. Next we add the floor.

Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog - add perspective to the elearning screen

The floor creates the horizon line which gives the image depth and is visually rich. But just like when remodeling your house, you want a baseboard on the floor to add that extra finish.

Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog - add more perspective to the elearning screen

As you can see, the baseboard does a great job dressing up the image. It creates a clean line; and based on where it’s positioned, the baseboard adds perspective. The cool thing is that you’re not limited to be too literal. In the example below, the baseboard’s a ruler which ties into the visual theme of education.

Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog - the visual design in your elearning screen doesn't need to be literal

The examples above are a literal floor, wall, and baseboard. But don’t limit yourself to what’s literal. The key point is to create a horizon line and then work from there. In fact, David Anderson, who presents with me at my workshops, has some really good tips on using the “Why Be Flat” technique for your elearning.

If you want to continue the conversation and learn more, follow this thread in the elearning community. It offers some additional tips and tricks as well as files to download.


Work with me and the Articulate community! There’s a cool opportunity to be part of what we’re doing in the Articulate community. You can learn more about the job here.

What you’ll need:

  • Writing samples. Look over these blog posts to get a sense of what we do: Word of Mouth & E-Learning Heroes.
  • Portfolio that shows your best elearning skills.

We won’t start to look at the applications until after the Learning Solutions conference so that should give you plenty of time to put together samples of your best work.

Upcoming workshops for 2013:

  • March 20 & 21: Durham, NC (ASTD). Two workshops:
  • April 2 &3: San Diego, CA. Two workshops. Sign up before it sells out.
        • Day 1 we’ll look at general elearning tips & tricks.
        • Day 2 will be a hands-on Storyline session.
  • April 16 & 17: Austin, TX. Rapid E-Learning Workshop.
  • May 14 & 15: London, UK. How to Become a Rapid E-Learning Pro: Two day master class filled with lots of hands-on activities.
  • June: Philadelphia, PA.
  • June: Portland, OR. BlueVolt eLearning Conference. Join the Articulate community team for a series of how-to sessions using the Articulate elearning applications.
  • June 12 & 13: Miami, FL. Two workshops…registration page coming soon
      • Day 1 – Rapid E-Learning Workshop.
      • Day 2 – Articulate Storyline Workshop. 
  • September: Greensboro, NC.
  • September: New York, NY. Two workshops. Register here.
      • Day 1 – Rapid E-Learning Workshop.
      • Day 2 – Articulate Storyline Workshop. I’ll also be presenting at the evening chapter meeting.
  • October: Baton Rouge, LA.
  • October: Los Angeles, CA.
  • November: St. Louis, MO
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13 responses to “Are Your Courses Looking Flat? Here’s a Simple Tip for a Quick E-Learning Course Makeover”

March 5th, 2013

@Tom Thanks for the schedule, useful.

March 6th, 2013

I love, love, love this tip. Thanks

thanks for the tutorials…u guys are so creative

Thanks for this idea. One of the problems we have is that our slides always look the same. I think we’ll try this on the next course and see what my manager says.

Looking forward to seeing you in San Diego. I like how you share your ideas. I saw David last year and met you at the jam session.

Thanks for all your team does it help us out. I work for a NGO and we have no money. These tips come in handy.

thank you for the suggestion
also thank you for links to chalkboard, i will use

March 7th, 2013

I can’t believe your newsletter is FREE. (But please don’t change that!) LOL! Thanks for all you do!

Any word on registration for the Miami event yet?

Can’t wait!

@Julie: just waiting on some final details and then the page will be up

Like this idea. Thank you Tom

great tips – very practival and easy to implement. Please send me more information on your workshops? I am based in South Africa.

@Herman: all of the workshop info is at the end of each blog post.

I am a student at Roosevelt University working towards my completion of Masters in Training and Development
( . I always enjoy your blogs and have attended “eLearning pro-workshop” you did in Chicago last year.

Thanks for sharing these tips to induce life into dull slides. It is making a huge difference. I believe that these changes can certainly make a big difference by making course more engaging if coupled with good a instructional design.